HBO's new Kathryn Hahn dramedy Mrs. Fletcher paints a poignant and wry portrait of upheaval and loss — plus, there's a lot of porn.
Eve Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) is used to taking care of people. By day, she runs a senior center, which means she’s the one the craft ladies call when a resident named Roy (Bill Raymond) starts watching dirty videos in the rec room. At home, Eve does everything for her self-centered son Brendan (Jackson White), a strapping dude-bro who can’t wait to be the big man on campus at college — once mom packs up all his stuff and drives him there, of course. Facing her empty nest with despair, Eve has drinks with her friend Jane (Casey Wilson), who gifts her with a candle that says “Breathe” and tells her to go have some fun, “like a handsome contractor.” During her first night alone in the house, Eve types “MILF” into her search engine on a whim, and suddenly her focus turns to taking care of herself, for the first time in years.
Much like The Leftovers, HBO’s last collaboration with author Tom Perotta, Mrs. Fletcher paints a poignant and wry portrait of upheaval and loss — but in this case, there’s a lot more porn. While websites like Milfateria.com help Eve begin to lose her inhibitions in private — she masturbates while making cookies, fantasizes in the frozen food aisle, screens amateur porn with her morning coffee — they also make the idea of actual human connections even more daunting. And Brendan, who learned everything he knows about inter-gender relationships from triple-X websites, discovers that college isn’t easy for “a straight cis white boy” who’s never given a second thought to anyone else’s experience. “In high school, everyone liked me,” he laments. “And now, I’m just, like, the bad guy.” Only fellow student Chloe — played by Jasmine Cephas Jones, daughter of This Is Us Emmy winner Ron Cephas Jones — takes pity on the woefully unwoke Brendan and tries to guide him through the fraught landscape of campus politics. (The late Cameron Boyce appears as Brendan’s college roommate, Zach.)
Hahn handles Fletcher’s emotional depths — Eve’s isolation and anger, her internalized dissatisfaction — with an appealing melancholy, and she brings a relatable bewilderment to her character’s lonely attempts to explore her sexuality. (A sequence in episode five, in which Eve attempts to spank herself while leaning over the chair at her kitchen island, is a little masterpiece of physical comedy and defeat.) Mrs. Fletcher’s fascination with pornography is never sensationalized or salacious, it’s more the engine for her midlife realization: Why should she continue being a “good girl,” when all its gotten her so far is neglect from her entitled son, and constant disappointment from an ex-husband (Josh Hamilton) who has a new family to focus on?
Though it’s only seven half-hour episodes, Fletcher gives the excellent ensemble substantive subplots about their own search for acceptance. White is a standout as Brendan, a standard-issue d-bag who becomes more interesting and endearing as his self-confidence and entire world view unravel around him. Owen Teague, so perfectly brooding in Bloodline, is adorably hangdog as Julian, a 19-year-old who meets Eve in a creative writing class and immediately develops a crush. Another classroom romance blossoms between Margo (Jen Richards), the transgender teacher, and Curtis (Rashad Edwards), an aspiring sci-fi writer; Richard and Edwards have charming chemistry, and their handful of scenes together create a relationship with real stakes.
Mrs. Fletcher doesn’t truly stumble until the very end. Eve makes a break from her past and finally pushes past the limits of her liberation, but the finale, which omits several of the developments in Perotta’s novel, feels bewilderingly abrupt for a show billed as a “limited series.” If ever a story cried out for another chapter, it’s this one. Grade: B+
Mrs. Fletcher premieres Sunday, Oct. 27 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO